In some breeds, the only way that a good breeder will let you purchase a puppy from them is on what’s called a co-own. There are a LOT of misconceptions floating around about them, including that the AKC frowns on them, that you don’t really own the dog, that the breeder should charge you less, and so on.
The situation is this: Breeders asked for a way to control the breeding decisions that owners were making–when you sell a puppy on a full registration (a show/breeding registration) to a sole owner, that sole owner can sign every contract in the world, assure you that they’re fabulous, and then put the puppy in the back of the car and drive away to a puppy mill and put your dog in a cage. Every breeder has heard the horror story of the owner who whited-out the box that you check when you want to put the puppy on “limited” (no breeding allowed) registration. Contracts, unfortunately, are rarely enforceable. The dog you bred and cried over and bled over could be pumping out AKC registered puppies for the next ten years.
AKC instituted the co-ownership to allow breeders to require two signatures when someone tries to register a litter of puppies. That’s really all it does “legally.” So if I co-own a bitch with you, and you breed her, if I refuse to sign you cannot register the litter or the individual puppies. It says nothing about the custodial or legal ownership of the dog herself or himself; that is a simple transfer akin to a refrigerator sale. It only controls whether puppies from the bitch can be AKC registered.
In a perfect world, and I think in the majority of co-owns, it works well. There are some breeds where the culture of selling is to ALWAYS require co-owns (in Danes, for example, I know very few people who solely own a bitch that they did not breed, and in fact if you see in a show catalog that the bitch is not co-owned you kind of wonder what the breeder was thinking). I co-owned every Dane I bought and most that I bred; my original co-owner is a dear friend and I would never hesitate to recommend that co-owns be used when everyone’s expectations are clear. Other breeds rarely if ever use co-owns (both of my Cardis I own outright).
The AKC offers it for a good reason and I think breeders would be very mad if it were no longer available. But the AKC basically says “You wanted this; don’t come to us if you can’t get along with your co-owner. We told you it was going to be problematic.” They absolutely refuse to arbitrate disputes and your co-owner can REALLY screw you if he or she desires. For example, a co-owner can suddenly decide that the stud dog you two had agreed on was not the right one, and refuse to let you register the puppies. Or a co-owner can fall off the face of the earth, leave no forwarding address, and now you’ve got a dog who can’t be bred.
So–again–co-own means that two signatures are required when the dog is bred. If the breeder mentions ANY OTHER TERMS, she is talking about a sale-with-strings, or a breeders-terms sale, sort of a custody arrangement rather than an outright purchase. Part of that arrangement will be the AKC co-own, but most of it will be a private agreement between the two of you. That’s why it’s SO important to have every item spelled out. Where the vast majority of co-owns-with-strings go wrong, in my experience, is when both parties have the same goal for the dog (that it finish its championship, that it be bred wisely, with the idea that it will contribute to BOTH breeding programs). That’s when you get raging fights over whether the dog should be sent off with a handler (one says yes, the other says no, the one that says yes insists that the other party should pay half, etc.) or who gets the ONE show-quality puppy in the litter, or whether the bitch should be spayed after a difficult whelping, or whatever.